UNEA4: Side Event Explores Role of Innovation in Achieving Sustainable Food Supply Chains

On Tuesday, March 12th, Farming First hosted a side event at the Fourth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4) in Nairobi, Kenya. The side event focused on the role that agricultural innovation can play in delivering more sustainable food systems.

Moderated by Farming First’s co-Chair Robert Hunter, the panel opened with a live poll of the audience in attendance on what they considered most press challenge facing the food system today, with “the impacts of climate change” receiving almost half the total votes.

Farming First supporter Amy Azania, who is Senior Policy Officer at One Acre Fund, then presented some opening remarks from the panel. Her organisation works with smallholder farmers in seven African countries, supplying them with financing and training to help them grow their way out of hunger and into lasting prosperity.

Azania discussed the everyday challenges facing farmers, from the recent droughts to the prevalence of post-harvest losses and health threats like aflatoxin.  She reinforced the importance of crafting interventions from the perspective of the whole value chain, to ensure the best chance of delivering positive impact. 

Amanda Namayi, East Africa Regional Co-ordinator of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (also a Farming First supporter), discussed the role that innovation can play in enticing young people into careers in agriculture, for instance around digital agriculture, big data and predictive analytics.  She also stressed the importance of focusing on “demand-driven” interventions – from new product development (i.e. new recipes for existing crops) and better processing capabilities.

Luciano Loman, Nuffield Scholar and Executive Director of Metos Brazil, presented on the rise of sensor systems in his home country to support farmers, including soil sensors that track moisture, disease risk alerts, insect monitoring and hyper-local weather forecasting. He anticipates that as these information technologies further scale up over time, the associated costs will fall, and the data sets will become more reliable (with years of data to analyse). This will help better translate the huge amounts of data being collected into actionable advice for farmers on the ground, and ultimately to help bridge the information divide that exists between producers and consumers.

Brian Lindsay, Sector Lead for Sustainability, Dairy Sustainability Framework, presented on his work with dairy value chain actors to improve their sustainability holistically across a range of criteria, from greenhouse gas emissions and water & soil management to rural economic growth, improved working conditions and animal care.  He commented that farmers tend to be conservative decision-makers and prefer to see new approaches working elsewhere before they adopt it themselves. He stressed the sector’s commitment to continued progress through encouraging innovation, collaboration and dialogue.

Finally, Ross Smith, Senior Regional Programme Advisor of the World Food Programme’s Regional Bureau for East & Central Africa, raised the alarm about the year-on-year increases his organisation is seeing related to acute food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, often a result of conflict but also more broadly due to shocks and stresses from climate change.

The session concluded by exploring several key questions facing the agricultural sector to continue supporting more sustainable global food systems. Those in attendance shared their views on priorities:

  1. Which innovations are making our food system more environmentally sound?

2. Which types of policies can help make food production and consumption patterns more sustainable?

3. What are the big ideas that will help the agriculture sector “Solve Different”?